HC Deb 10 December 1997 vol 302 cc948-69 10.59 am
Mr. Charles Clarke (Norwich, South)

I welcome this debate, which is the first one on cycling for many years. It is particularly timely given the Kyoto conference on the environment and the Government's review of integrated transport policy. I congratulate my right hon. and hon. Friends on that because they are following a course that will be extremely effective, and I want cycling to play its part in the debate.

I should declare an interest as chairman of the all-party cycling group, which has more than 40 members and is growing all the time. It hopes that the views expressed in the debate will be taken into account by the Government. I am sure that that will happen. I am particularly grateful to see that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), the shadow Secretary of State for Defence, is present. He is well known throughout the House for his long-term commitment on this matter and for his campaigning to raise the status of cycling in various guises. I am sure that in the unfortunate circumstances of his party coming to power again, the battlefield means of transport would shift from the armoured personnel carrier to the bicycle.

The purpose of the debate is to stress the need for the Government to have a co-ordinated and coherent strategy to promote cycling in all areas. We believe that that strategy will reduce congestion, promote the Government's general environmental policies and promote public health. That is why we believe that cycling must be regarded as a vital part of the Government's overall transport policies.

I should emphasise that I speak not on behalf of the 1 million cyclists in Britain—although that figure is significant—but on behalf of many more people who would like to cycle if only they felt able to do so but are inhibited from doing so for a number of different reasons. The following figures sum up the current problem: 90 per cent. of children have bikes; 2 per cent. of them cycle to school; and 17 per cent. of cars travelling at 9 am every morning are taking children to and from school—an average journey of about 1.8 miles. The absence of cycling routes increases congestion, makes cycling more dangerous and makes the condition of our environment worse. We want to replace that vicious circle with a virtuous one.

Many people want to cycle, but fail to do so. A number of statistics support that claim. In 1975–76, 14 households in every 100 had a bike. Last year, 30 households in every 100 had a bike. That represents a dramatic increase in the number of bicycles in Britain—23 million bikes are kept by British households. In the past decade, however, bicycle usage has gone down by 20 per cent. at the same time as the ownership of bikes has doubled. That illustrates as well as any figure could the fact that many people want to cycle but are inhibited from doing so.

The pattern of cycling varies across the country. According to the 1991 census, 27 per cent. of people cycle in Cambridge; 18 per cent. in York; 15 per cent. in Gosport; 11 per cent. in Crewe; and 10 per cent. in Grimsby. I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) is in his place because he has been a long-standing parliamentary advocate of cycling. In Norwich, the figure stands at 3 per cent., although we are trying to push it up. Those figures reveal the variety of bicycle use across the country, ranging as it does from the top level of 27 per cent. to 3 per cent. in cities such as Norwich. One must compare that with the 43 per cent. bicycle use recorded in Delft in Holland or Munster in Germany—what a dramatic difference.

As the Government's figures suggest, United Kingdom bicycle use is low when compared to that internationally. The figures show that 2 per cent. of journeys in the United Kingdom are made by bicycle, compared with 10 per cent. in Sweden; 11 per cent. in Germany; 15 per cent. in Switzerland—which is so flat, of course!—and 18 per cent. in Denmark. Those figures show that the number of people who cycle is not simply a matter of geographic convenience but depends on whether respective Governments have focused their policies on making such journeys work.

Consider what has happened in Munich, a great city which is not generally considered to be occupied by green cyclists, veggie eaters and all the rest of it. It has increased the number of bike journeys to work from 6 per cent. to 15 per cent. in the past three years by means of properly focused policies.

The scope for such an increase in bicycle use in Britain exists if local and national Government apply themselves to introducing policies to put cycling at the core of an integrated transport strategy. The Royal Automobile Club estimates that 8 per cent. of car journeys, one in 12, are of less than a mile. That is equivalent to a five-minute cycle ride—less if one is the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire. It also estimates that 25 per cent. of car journeys cover less than two miles, which is equivalent to a 10-minute cycle ride.

The desire to increase the use of bicycles also exists and has been admirably set out in the Government's discussion paper, "Developing an Integrated Transport Policy". Cycling is an option for the vast majority of people, including those under the age of 16 to whom many other forms of transport are not available. It is affordable and helps the poorest in our country. A journey by bicycle can be made door to door, a service which public transport, despite its advantages, often cannot offer. An increase in the number of journeys by bicycle would reduce congestion—one of the Government's principal goals—and cut CO2 emissions in our atmosphere, so improving air quality and health.

What are the inhibitions on the use of the bicycle, given that so many people own a bike and yet fewer and fewer people are using them? There are three fundamental inhibitions that it is within the Government's power to address. The first and most obvious is the danger involved. For understandable reasons, many parents will not permit their children to cycle to school because of the risks involved. The second inhibition relates to the storage and security of a bike at the place of work or wherever the journey may end. The third inhibition relates to convenience and comfort.

We could attack the problems of danger if the Government committed themselves to creating an integrated high-quality network of cycle routes throughout our cities. The Sustrans initiative—I should declare an interest as one of its patrons—has been outstanding. It has made and will continue to make major improvements in the level of cycling, but its efforts are by no means enough. In every town and city we need an integrated transport route strategy to ensure that people can conveniently and safely cycle from home to school or to their place of work or wherever.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West)

Hon. Members are listening with interest to the hon. Gentleman, whose comments we support. Given the role of district and borough councils and the highway authorities, which are often county councils, one of the best things would be to encourage those organisations to work out what would help their staff to travel to work by bicycle. They should make all their staff, not just the bicycling officers, sensitive to what could be done easily, fast and cheaply to encourage bicycle use. That would set an example that could be followed by other employers.

Mr. Clarke

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and I agree that the role of employers is critical. They spend large amounts of money subsidising company cars and other items which are not in their best interests and, in many cases, it would be much cheaper and better for them to encourage their employees to cycle to and from work where that is feasible.

We need a high-quality integrated network of cycle routes throughout the country. The Cyclists Touring Club has estimated that it would cost £130 million a year over 10 years to establish such a network. Compare that with the expenses incurred in my region, the eastern region, on motorway building. The estimated cost of projects and schemes in preparation for the widening of junctions 10 to 14 of the M1—as recorded in the Government's roads review, so the work may not go ahead—is £228.5 million. Compare that with the £130 million needed to develop a national cycle network. The M1 junctions 6 to 10 widening will cost £105.9 million, and the A14 improvement, £122.3 million. Those are some of the schemes in my region. The cause of the nation's health and the environment would be advanced if, in the Government's roads review, they tried to put that integrated high-quality cycle network in place throughout the country, rather than widening a few bits of motorway and adding sliproads here and there.

It is particularly important to focus on the issue of safety around schools—the reduction of car speed and protected access to the cycle route are crucial. Experience abroad shows that the more cycles are used, the less dangerous cycling is. Some of the fashionable newspapers are portraying cyclists and pedestrians as being in conflict. When such a conflict occurs, it is bad, but it is nothing like as bad as the conflict between the cyclist and the motorist, as a result of which the cyclist may end up dead or seriously injured. The way to deal with that is to ensure that cyclists are not forced to choose between dangerous roads and illegal pavements. There should be a proper cycle route.

Secondly, on storage and security, it is critical that when people cycle to work or school, they can leave their bike in safety and park it in a proper facility, and that there should be facilities for them to shower, change their clothes and store their cycling gear.

The intervention of the hon. Member for Worthing, West (Mr. Bottomley) was extremely pertinent. Several employers are taking initiatives and working with Transport 2000—for example, the Royal Mail, Hewlett Packard, the Body Shop and a number of public sector bodies—to try to achieve the kind of co-operation to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I hope that as part of the integrated policy, the Government will approach employers and employers' organisations to encourage cycle use among employees, and that the Government, as a major employer, will do likewise.

In schools, cycle storage is not available now, as it used to be. Some heads actively discourage children from cycling to school. I was about to make a joke about the historic role of the bike shed in British education, but perhaps that would not be appropriate in a tidy debate such as this. Government support for schools to provide proper storage facilities for bikes is an important element which the sustainable roads for schools programme seeks to encourage.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the people who can influence others, such as teachers, school governors going to their meetings, and parents, started cycling instead of pointing the finger and telling other people to cycle while they themselves go around in their 1.5 tonne steel waistcoat with the radio blaring, it would be far more likely to help others to put that into practice? Could we start by encouraging Westminster city council, with or without the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, to put an advance stop line for bicyclists at the bottom of Whitehall, and make a bicycle lane as well, and perhaps close the gates of the House of Commons car park for one day a year?

Mr. Clarke

I entirely agree. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the all-party group had a useful meeting yesterday with the councillors who chair the environment and transport committee of Westminster city council, and also with the people who run the royal parks. We spoke about the specific matters that the hon. Gentleman raised, and also about general issues. The councillors said that they were committed to providing proper bike parking around the Palace of Westminster for visitors. We are pursuing the matter with the Serjeant at Arms.

I take this opportunity to advertise the fact that 10 June next year will be National Bicycle Day—the Wednesday in the middle of National Bicycle Week. We will be organising a bicycle ride in which we hope that as many Members of Parliament as possible will do their bit to encourage people to cycle to work that day, as the hon. Gentleman suggested.

Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the integrated transport strategy is crucial, and that more than one Department has a role to play? May I invite him to develop his argument on the role of employers and to reflect on the role of the planning authorities, which receive applications for new places of employment? Does not planning policy provide a great opportunity to require and encourage employers to make proper facilities available, so that they are built into every new place of work?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with my hon. Friend—and especially with his point that it is a matter not just for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, but for a wide range of Government Departments, including the Cabinet Office, which is at the centre of government as an employer. The national health service clearly has an interest in promoting health, and hospitals and health facilities are both a massive employer, and places where a massive number of people go. The Department for Education and Employment has a critical role to play in promoting safe cycling to school.

On planning, I agree that the goal should be to reduce out-of-city building, and to plan new developments—retail developments, hospitals, places of work or whatever—with the shortest possible lines of communication between the development and the people who are likely to go there. That in itself would encourage transport by bicycle.

Thirdly, with reference to comfort and convenience, I shall cite the results of a controlled exercise: a cyclist took 13 minutes to cover the 3.5 miles from Camden lock to St. Paul's cathedral. The same journey took 20 minutes by cab, 29 minutes by car, 32 minutes by tube and 40 minutes by bus. That is an interesting illustration of the fact that the bike can be convenient, effective and speedy. If we could simply solve the problems of danger and proper storage, people would choose to use the bike, because of the convenience.

That also involves a proper exchange between the bicycle and other forms of transport—the fashionable term is intermodal transport. The obvious example is the train, and the argument entails another virtuous circle—if proper bike parks are available around commuting stations, more people will cycle to the bike park, leave their bike securely and travel by train, rather than driving. That would increase business for the train company and benefit the environment.

I am pleased to say that Anglia Railways, which is the train operator between London and Norwich, has won several awards. The company is grateful to the Minister for Transport in London for presenting those awards at a ceremony at Liverpool Street station a few months ago. Anglia Railways removed travel restrictions on bicycles, reduced the bicycle fare from £3 to £1 and was awarded the first cycle mark by Sustrans at the presentation that I mentioned. The company has further plans to increase capacity for cycles by January next year.

Such initiatives are important. In the context of convenience and cost for cyclists, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) for her determined campaign for the granting of cycle allowances by the House and more generally. She is working extremely hard, with our full support.

I hope that I have made the case that the Government could make a big difference to cycle use in Britain by drawing up a coherent and co-ordinated strategy. That would improve the health of the nation and the environment, as other countries have shown. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is committed to that course, and I hope that she and her colleagues in the Department will listen to the contributions in the debate and reflect our concerns in the White Paper to be published at the beginning of next year.

11.19 am
Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) on securing this debate this morning. It is important not least because the House rarely gets to debate this issue—I am not sure that there has been a debate specifically about cycling in this place before. Cycling is vital to the creation of an integrated transport strategy. We expect to hear news today from Kyoto about the outcome of the climate change conference. Sadly, it is likely that any proposals will be inadequate. Nevertheless, changing our transport system and encouraging people to use non-polluting forms of transport is crucial to securing reduced pollution levels and improving our climate.

"Get on yer bike" was a phrase somewhat abused by the previous Government, but it is an increasingly important option in the face of unsustainable growth in road traffic. Cycling is both healthy and non-polluting, and it can play an important part in developing an efficient, integrated transport system. That said, there would be little point in this place's pretending that, in the next 10 years, for example, the bicycle will overtake the car as the preferred form of transport for many types of journey. However, the car need not be people's first preference for every type of journey, as it is at present.

The car should be only one of many ways of getting from A to B—and it should certainly not be the mode of transport most encouraged by Government policy in terms of planning, the roads system and the tax system. In a properly integrated transport system, people should be able to use different travel combinations—car, public transport or bicycles—depending on what is most suited to their journey, and they should have the facilities that make their choice practical.

At present, the car is not only over-used but literally pushing everything else off the road. The Liberal Democrats have long argued that providing everyone with the means to reach work, shops and schools is possible sustainably only if different forms of transport do not conflict with each other and are brought together in an integrated transport strategy. We must ensure that the car does not overwhelm other more environmentally sound ways to travel. We must make travelling much more straightforward so that people do not always feel the need to turn to their cars.

For example, if a train passenger were able to leave his bike at a station in a secure place or take his bike on the train to use at his destination without excessive restrictions or penalty fares, the journey would be quicker and simpler than one that involved sitting in traffic or parking the car. However, in truth, the current rail system is more often a foe than a friend of cycling because it places many obstructions in the way of cyclists. The challenge is to create a system in which cycle routes link with public transport over longer distances so that green transport options are not only the most sustainable but the easiest route to follow. We need to integrate cycling literally into our transport system.

I am pleased that the Government have recognised the urgent need for a complete overhaul of our approach to transport in Britain with the publication of the integrated transport consultation paper. I look forward to the outcome of that process and I hope that cycling will play a full part in the document's conclusions. It is certainly a contrast to the ostrich approach that characterised much of the previous Government's transport policy. The Conservatives ignored the environmental and congestion problems and seemed to pull their heads out of the sand only to give the go-ahead to one road scheme or another. More often than not, such schemes did not relieve congestion but simply transferred it, thus exacerbating the problems that they were meant to solve.

To be fair, the previous Government eventually gave some recognition to the possible contribution that cycling could make to rationalising the transport system by introducing the national cycling strategy. That strategy, which has been adopted by this Government, seeks a fourfold increase in cycling by 2012. Given that cycling accounts for less than 2 per cent. of trips in this country—the hon. Gentleman referred to cycling levels in other countries, including 11 per cent. in Germany and 15 per cent. in Switzerland—an increase to 8 per cent. over the next 15 years is perhaps not such an ambitious target. In any case, the real issue is not the target but how Ministers intend to achieve it.

Today I shall briefly touch on some of the major schemes that have been developed to encourage cycling in Britain and how I believe that the Government could take them much further. The safe routes to school project, which has been referred to already, is funded basically by local authorities and Sustrans. It addresses one of the most pressing problems currently facing cycling in Britain: the problem of safety and, perhaps more accurately, of fear on the part of children who cycle and their parents. Nobody enjoys sitting in rush-hour traffic: it is both stressful and time-consuming. It is also often unnecessary. Much rush-hour traffic, especially in urban areas, is caused by people making short local journeys that could be made quickly and more safely in other ways.

The recent national travel survey found that, before 9 am during term time, about one in every five cars were taking children to school. On average, such trips are less than two miles long. If parents and pupils felt happy cycling or walking to school, there would be a great deal less traffic in the morning and thus less pollution and less danger. That would encourage more people to walk and cycle, thereby creating a virtuous cycle.

In contrast, a vicious circle exists at present. Increasing car use has made cycling and walking to school more dangerous, so more parents decide to use the car and school routes become even more dangerous. The safe routes to school initiative seeks to break that circle by taking people out of their cars and on to safe cycle routes that both parents and children can use without fear. That would get polluting traffic off the roads and help to reverse the declining level of fitness in Britain, thereby creating real long-term health benefits.

That is an excellent project, but it exists only because of funding from a charitable organisation and because some local authorities have managed to find the money. Limited funding means that the project is able to cover only a handful of areas. The Government must look closely at how they can expand their at present limited role and ensure that safe routes to school are available to all Britain's schoolchildren. That involves looking at planning guidance and reducing traffic speed around schools. For example, 20 mph limits around schools and active traffic-calming measures could be introduced. It means supporting schools in providing proper storage facilities for bikes and encouraging both parents and children to cycle. It also means providing local authority funding for that work—a point to which I shall return later.

The National Cycle Network will provide another welcome boost to the campaign to improve safety for cyclists through the creation of 2,500 miles of traffic-free and traffic-calmed paths by 2000. I congratulate Sustrans on securing more than £40 million from the Millennium Commission to fund that innovative scheme, which involves planning cycle tracks along disused railways and towpaths and creating routes not only for work or school but for tourism. It will bring money into, and traffic away from, many of this country's most beautiful areas.

The National Cycle Network will bring the health and environmental benefits of cycling to many areas. However, many of its plans are running into difficulty or face substantial delay. Although it is a millennium project, very little of it will be completed by the millennium. Cash-strapped local authorities are finding it hard, if not impossible, to provide their portion of the funding for their sections of the cycle network. Many local authorities are experiencing difficulties in that area, and the case of Derbyshire was raised with me. The network route between Derby and Burton-on-Trent and between Derby and Nottingham has been postponed.

My home country of Cornwall has difficulty not only with its sections of the cycle network but with its own ambitious cycle path proposal, the Cornish way. The latter project has been on hold for more than a year since the Millennium Commission turned down an application for funding. The project aims to provide a network of eight routes throughout the county not only for cyclists but for walkers and the mobility-impaired. Given the Cornish economy's reliance on tourism, the delay is economically costly. Although the county council is providing all the funding that it can, the Cornish way scheme must now look to Sustrans for assistance. However, Sustrans has little to offer in the way of financial support. Meanwhile, the recently announced local government settlement has cut the county's highways budget even further in cash terms, which guarantees that even fewer discretionary projects will get off the ground.

All local authority cycleway spending has been under pressure since the previous Government's local transport settlement, which was announced last December and which cut the total money available for minor works and safety schemes from £177 million to £139 million. As that budget is the only source of funding for cycle measures, many local authorities, not just Cornwall, have had to suspend cycle schemes in this financial year. Safe routes for schoolchildren have had to be postponed, for example, in Cambridgeshire and in Hertfordshire, as have railway partnership schemes to improve facilities at stations for cyclists in Hampshire. That makes nonsense of the supposed national cycling strategy. We are falling further and further behind in pursuing the initiatives that we want.

At present, funding for cycling is simply not adequate. Research by Transport 2000 shows that just 2 per cent. of local authority transport capital spending goes to cyclists. By contrast, the German environment department recommends that its regional governments spend £20 per head on cycling, 100 times that spent in the United Kingdom, where local authorities are able to spare only 20p per head to turn motorists into cyclists. However much it may be argued that local authorities can transfer things, with that gap, we need to consider the overall funding system. A lot of funding could be found from the tax incentives and other incentives that are given to motorists to drive. That is a good source for the Government to consider.

Cycling can save money. Recent evidence shows that congestion on roads costs the nation £15 billion annually in terms of national health service, health and environment costs and the congestion's effect on the atmosphere overall. We will deal with that only by creating a genuinely integrated transport system, such as cycleways connecting people with school, work or other forms of transport. Funding must reflect the importance of such a system.

The Government have announced further cuts in local government standard spending assessments for transport in 1998–99. I urge the Minister to fight the corner for improved funding for those schemes to ensure that we have not only an integrated transport strategy but, as it were, an integrated budget strategy for the environment and transport.

I hope that Members of Parliament will win the battle to have cycling allowances alongside the generous incentives that we have for motoring. Perhaps at the same time the Minister could deal with the fact that, if members of the public who do not normally have access to this place cycle here, they are not allowed to park their bicycle, but are turned away. As cyclists are banned from locking up their bikes in the streets around Westminster, that seems an extraordinary system. I understand the security issues, but I hope that that rule will be changed.

11.32 am
Valerie Davey (Bristol, West)

This welcome debate takes place at an auspicious time in the context of the Kyoto conference. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) and the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) have mentioned Sustrans, a charitable company that was formed by an imaginative, creative and forward-looking group of people in Bristol in 1979, and that considered in particular how we could have a sustainable integrated transport system, with a focus on cycling.

To increase the percentage of journeys that are made by cyclists, we are looking for a safe and attractive infrastructure—with traffic-free routes and traffic-calmed roads, where often the speed limit should be only 20 mph—and for a clear lead from central Government, local government and the media to sustain cycling as a modern form of transport that should be encouraged. Sustrans, which had that vision in 1979, has been working hard. It has already put forward, built and designed 250 miles of traffic-free routes for both cyclists and pedestrians. As has been mentioned, in 1995, it was awarded the first Millennium Commission project to build the national cycle network. By 2005, that project will provide 6,500 miles of cycle routes, which will go through city centres and include safe routes to school and work and easy access to the countryside—all without the use of the car. That is what is needed to raise cycling's profile.

Sustrans has drawn my attention to the fact that, in this country, 70 per cent. of all journeys are under five miles. Most of them, of course, could be made by cycling. It is worth remembering that most of the people who are responsible for making decisions about transport travel much further than that to work and may have a different perspective on the use of transport generally.

Cycling is relatively cheap, yet that millennium project, imaginative as it is, will cost about £180 million. A quarter of it has come from lottery funding. Much more is being raised in other ways, but transport money will also be needed. The Government's contribution towards the aim of opening the first 2,500 miles by midsummer's day of the year 2000, is to provide for 63 new and 38 modified road crossings. I hope that the Government will be able to confirm that we are on schedule and will recognise, as the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell said, that Government funding will be needed within local government financing to complete the urban sections of the network. Billions have been spent on roads, but spending millions on cycle routes would contribute significantly to a better transport system and to reducing the crisis on our roads.

While Sustrans has been making that important national contribution, which many individual cyclists support, my constituents have come up with some more immediate priorities, which echo some of the points that have been made. The first concern is that there should be a clear and combined cycle-rail transport scheme. In Denmark, for example, 35 per cent. of people who use rail reach the station by cycling. In Germany, the figure is 15 per cent., but in Britain less than 1 per cent. of people cycle to the station and continue their journey by cycle at the other end.

The position in my constituency of Bristol, West is interesting. Cyclists may use a local branch line, the Severn-Beach, which has received support from local government, free of charge without the need to book, but, if they reach Bristol Temple Meads—although the security for cycles there has been improved if they wish to leave their bike—and want to travel to a further destination with their bike, they are faced with three different operators, offering different charges and different conditions, with or without booking. That complicated system needs to change if we are to encourage cycling to the station and an onward journey with the bike. A common policy would encourage cycling.

Secondly, individuals are looking for more traffic-calming measures in residential areas. It seems that the Bristol cycle campaign, which was inaugurated six years ago with the main objective of achieving 20 mph speed limits in urban areas, was setting a precedent. Many more people want a national slowdown initiative to reduce the speed of traffic, particularly in residential areas.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South mentioned accident levels at different speeds. May I spell that out? At 40 mph, an accident involving a pedestrian will almost certainly lead to loss of life. At 30 mph, the pedestrian has a 50:50 chance of survival. At 20 mph, usually only one in 20 will have a fatal accident. It is so logical to reduce speed limits. In addition, in the urban context, driving at 20 mph—remembering of course that the majority of those journeys are under five miles—will add only one minute to the journey time.

We should see cycling as an important part of an integrated transport system. It can be enjoyable, and many more people could take it up. An integrated transport system with more cyclists could, as we have already heard, benefit health, local communities and the environment.

I am sorry that the Chamber is not packed this morning, but I know that many House of Commons staff cycle, and I am delighted to see bicycles as I walk through the Courtyard. I hope that more Members, more staff and more people everywhere are encouraged to cycle by the Government's policy and the work initiated by Sustrans.

11.40 am
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

The debate is fascinating, but the case for encouraging cycling is so obvious that we should not have to put it in such a little debate; it should be central to Government policy. It was powerfully put by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), whom I congratulate on initiating the debate.

There is an environmental case for cycling: it relieves congestion. As has been said several times, most journeys are short—70 per cent. of car journeys are less than five miles—and ideally would be taken on a bicycle. There is also a health argument. Although cycling is compatible with being overweight in my case—and, I suspect, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South—it is a healthy pleasure. Then there is the convenience aspect. I used to live in Kilburn before my wife had delusions of grandeur and decided to move us up in the world to Victoria, where it is hardly worth getting the bike out. It used to take me 25 minutes to cycle in from Kilburn—although that was when I was at the peak of fitness; I was a young contender in politics then—but it took me between 45 minutes and an hour to come in by car, and 45 minutes on the tube.

Given the strength of the argument for cycling, it is amazing that so little is being done. Other countries do much more. In this country, cycling is regarded as a slightly cranky occupation. I wish that my hon. Friend had shorn his beard, partly to help his career in the Labour party but also to present a slightly less cranky image of cycling.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

What about your tie?

Mr. Mitchell

That is not a cranky image; it is a fashionable image.

Cycling is regarded as cranky and quirky. People pay lip service to it, but they do not do anything. A dynamic drive from the top downwards is needed to push the case for cycling, and to bring it into all transport considerations. Pious words and endless deference—which, it is fair to say, we do hear—are not enough. I do not know why more is not done, but encouraging cycling is central to the improvement that we need. Use breeds interest. The more people cycle, the safer cycling is—and, as all the figures show, the fewer people cycle, the more dangerous it is. As my hon. Friend pointed out, there are more people on cycles, but fewer people use their cycles to make, for instance, the journey to work. We must remove the obstacles to cycling. That means recognition of what the obstacles are, and a massive effort to get rid of them. The all-party cycling group will do its best, but the drive must come from Ministers, as well as from local authorities.

What are the obstacles that need to be removed? One of the main problems experienced by cyclists—particularly in London, but I experience it in Grimsby. in Yorkshire as a whole and, indeed, all over the country—is that, having cycled somewhere because, in general, it is more convenient to cycle a short distance than to walk or drive, they have nowhere to put their bicycles. That is a perennial and pressing problem. There are signs defacing railings everywhere, especially in London, saying that police will remove cycles—but what better use is there for railings, except where dogs are concerned, than as somewhere to lock cycles so that they are not stolen? The signs are a monstrosity: we should be able to put our cycles somewhere. There should be facilities at workplaces, and also in the street. Why are there no cycle parks in central positions in London? Why are there not cycle parks at more railway and bus stations, so that people can combine cycling with other forms of transport?

Even at the House of Commons there is cycle storage space, but the facilities at Norman Shaw are pathetic. Cyclists compete for places with great bags of rubbish which, when moved, usually knock all the cycles over. When I lean my cycle against the wall, it is then moved because it is an inconvenience. Cycle storage space at work is essential.

Facilities for changing are also essential. I tend not to cycle in my fashionable suits—I prefer to cycle in a pair of jeans and a shirt—but I sometimes cycle to the House in a suit. When people shuffle away from me during debates, it is not because of my politics, old Labour though they are; it is because, having cycled in, I am hot and sweaty, and there are no facilities to enable me to shower and change my clothes. The facilities are few enough here, but in most other places they are pathetic.

There should be more emphasis on safety, so that people feel more confident. I would make crash helmets compulsory. More cycling routes should be designated—not just routes through parks, which we discussed yesterday in the all-party cycling group, but on the roads. As others have said, we also need traffic-calming measures. Traffic should be slower in the vicinity of schools, so that children will be encouraged to cycle to school. My heart goes out to mothers with small children perched on the back of their bicycles. When I see my daughter taking my grandchildren to school on the back of her bike, it worries me enormously.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Should we not re-examine the question of roundabouts? When the local authority in Cambridge discovered that most accidents to cyclists took place at roundabouts, they removed them, which led to a significant reduction in the number of casualties.

Mr. Mitchell

I agree entirely. There should also be designated places at traffic lights, so that cars do not suddenly sweep across cyclists to turn left when the cyclists are going straight ahead.

Bicycles should be better designed. I am tempted to buy a small collapsible bicycle, but I am so tall that when I ride such bicycles they wobble all over the place, because the saddle and the handlebars are so extended. It is like riding a jelly—or perhaps I am the jelly. Nevertheless, portable bicycles are very useful, as are bicycles with facilities for carrying things. When I was cycling from Kilburn, I lost the manuscript of a book that set out the whole case for new Labour. [Laughter.] No, no: it forecast accurately everything that needed to happen to the party. That was in the early 1980s. I sometimes wonder whether the manuscript was discovered in the park through which I was cycling by my hon. Friend the Minister without Portfolio. Perhaps that was the beginning of his rise to power. As far as I know, the book was never found, despite my desperate inquiries of the police; but its suggestions have certainly been implemented by the Labour party. If proper carrying facilities had been available, the manuscript would not have dropped from my bike and I would now be in a powerful position rather than standing here pleading for cyclists' views to be heard.

The case for cyclists has been well put by hon. Members. We need a drive to cycling, a policy that is wider and more powerful than the enthusiasm of those of us taking part in the debate. That means a drive by local authorities to introduce cycling into all traffic developments. Grimsby in north-east Lincolnshire is a case in point and was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South. We have developed effective cycling policies, but the limitation is always finance to build cycleways and install facilities. There should be dedicated finance for local authorities to encourage cycling.

I was distressed to find that the national network of 6,500 miles will not provide facilities in such beauty spots as the Yorkshire dales, the Lincolnshire wolds and the lake district. It is just a means of getting from one end of the country to the other rather than a facility that will allow people to branch out into beautiful areas. We need imaginative national planning but most of all there must be a drive from the top to encourage cycling, and that means a Minister whose specific responsibility is to promote and develop cycling so that it is included in all considerations and decisions. That Minister would develop a financial framework to promote cycling and reward cyclists. That would bring a whole new enthusiasm to cycling matters and make it a central rather than a peripheral part of transport policy. The simple answer is to do what we have suggested and I call on the Minister to get on her bike.

11.51 am
Mr. David Lock (Wyre Forest)

It is an enormous pleasure to speak in this important debate because cycling gives much pleasure to those who are able to engage in it. It is also a great tourist opportunity which is currently undervalued. My wife and I spent more than a year cycling abroad, an activity that enables one to see a country from the bottom up in a quiet leisurely way without making any impact on it. It is a superb way to explore a country, but although this country is ideal for such touring because the key sites are close together and many of them can be visited in a day, our roads system is inherently hostile to cyclists. We are missing a great economic opportunity.

Some people say that they cannot cycle because they have children. In the year that my wife and I cycled 5,000 miles through California, Mexico and Australia, we had a two-year-old child in a trailer on the back of the bike. If we could do it in our state—we are not quite so portly as my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke)—I suspect that many people could do it.

I am especially concerned about children, and primarily those who cycle to school. The statistics are alarming. In 1971, some 80 per cent. of our children cycled to school, and I was one of them. Now only 10 per cent. do that. A recent survey in Bury St. Edmunds showed that fewer than one in 20 of our children were taking the amount of exercise that is necessary to maintain minimum fitness. That is frightening. Nine out of 10 juniors own a bike but only one in four of them are allowed by their parents to cycle on the roads. As 300 children a year are killed on our roads, such parental objection is understandable in the light of a roads system that is inherently hostile to cyclists.

Denmark has 10 times the number of cyclists in Britain but as hon. Members have eloquently said, a Danish cyclist is 12 times less likely to be killed or injured per mile travelled. Some 23 per cent. of our children travel to school by car, and that accounts for one in five cars at peak times although the distances travelled are between one and two miles. Over such short distances, catalytic converters do not have time to warm up and, paradoxically, those journeys produce the highest levels of pollution.

The advantages of a national strategy to encourage children to cycle to school are overwhelming. The first of those is health: we do not want a nation of couch potatoes. We must train children to use their bodies and minds responsibly. The Health Education Authority has asked for cycling to be doubled, and the British Medical Association says that that will make a significant contribution to the nation's health. If children are encouraged to cycle early, they will keep the habit for life. If we deprive them of the opportunity to cycle early, they will not adopt that habit. Cycling provides a great opportunity to teach children independence because when cycling they make limited decisions. It will also cut congestion and protect the environment.

How are we to reach our goal? The first step is to recognise the benefits and then to invest in cycling routes as part of a rearrangement of our transport priorities. We must overcome the fear of parents and children of cycling. We can take some simple steps. As my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has said, there should be secure facilities for locking cycles. We must introduce traffic-calming measures and 20 mph zones around schools and encourage road safety and cycle training within schools. Nine out of 10 children have bicycles, and we are failing in our duty if we do not teach them to cycle safely as part of the national curriculum.

We must build on the excellent work that has been carried out under the safe routes to school project. We need better and safer junctions and car-free routes and we must build on good practice. In areas where cycling to school has been promoted, the effects are startling. Reading and York both promote cycling and now 35 per cent. of children in Reading cycle to school. That is a vast improvement on previous statistics and those children reap the benefit and get into the habit of cycling. As hon. Members have said, what we need most is guidance from the top for a comprehensive and properly funded strategy. The targets in the national cycling strategy are impressive, but without the necessary drive we will fail to reach them, just as the previous Government failed to reach the "Health of the Nation" targets. Labour is in government and I hope that policies will be implemented to make sure that, for everybody's benefit, the targets are met.

11.57 am
Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) on securing this important debate. I should like to relay my experiences from my constituency. In the past seven years, two road projects for bypasses were planned for my area—one for Rhyl and one for Prestatyn. The Rhyl project was to cost £17 million and the Prestatyn one £10 million. The terminology is interesting. Initially, they were called bypasses but when the business community found that it was to be bypassed the projects were called relief roads.

Some £27 million was to be spent on two relief roads that were unwanted and unnecessary. A massive petition was presented and the two projects were knocked on the head. Compare those unnecessary projects, costing £27 million, with the £42 million that the lottery, a charity, gave to Sustrans. What is our priority? Is it to promote unnecessary and unwanted roads, or to promote a strategic cycleway system for the United Kingdom?

Before being elected to the House, I taught in a large primary school which had 560 pupils. I attended the same school in the 1960s. In the 1960s, my school had bicycle sheds that were filled to overflowing with bicycles. On my most recent visit there, in September 1997, I saw one bicycle chained to the fence. The bicycle sheds had gone, and one pupil out of 560 had cycled to school. That situation is mirrored in towns and cities across the country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock) said that our children are being turned into couch potatoes. It is true. Their parents drive them to their destination, because they believe that the roads are too dangerous. The more children are driven to school, the more road traffic will increase: the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling, and fears increasingly become justified.

Provision of off-road cycleways specifically for schoolchildren would bring great benefits to the United Kingdom. It would encourage children to cycle and take regular exercise from an early age—which is the critical factor, because children establish patterns for life at an early age. Schoolchildren cycling to school would drastically reduce the 8.30 am and 3.30 pm rush hours caused by school runs, thereby reducing traffic, the number of accidents—especially those involving children—and pollution levels.

When I served as a councillor in my community, I participated in a project to discover what local schoolchildren wanted. In nine local schools, we asked 600 children, ranging in age from seven to 16, what facilities they wanted in their tourist-oriented town. They did not want more "palaces of culture"—a euphemism for slot machine arcades. They wanted pure and simple things: the first was cycleways and the second was ice rinks.

All the jigsaw pieces are in place. There is demand for cycling, and people own bikes. Parents, however, are reluctant to allow or encourage their children to cycle because of perceived dangers. The Government should be concentrating their energy on the young, whose attitudes and life styles are still being formed.

I ask Ministers to listen to the many valid points made in this debate by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I urge the Government to lead the way in promoting cycling by providing finance, co-ordination and—most importantly, as has been said many times in this debate—vision, so that cycling can play its full role in an integrated transport system.

12.2 pm

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) on securing this debate. He was absolutely right to begin his speech by recognising my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) as a key factor in the development of cycling policy in the United Kingdom. The hon. Gentleman did not mention my hon. Friend the Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan)—who did sterling work with the all-party cycling group—but I am sure that that was a mere oversight.

I should declare my interest as a cyclist. I am a member of the Dorset cyclists network, a long-standing member of the tandem club and the owner of not only a tandem but a tandem trailer. For hon. Members who have not seen my tandem and tandem trailer together, it is approximately the same length as a Volvo estate. I have also participated with my family in the mass cycle ride in Christchurch, which was initiated to celebrate the 900th anniversary of Christchurch priory but has now become a very popular annual event in Christchurch during environment week. I have participated also in "Healthy Bike Ride", which was promoted by local general practitioners.

I agree with the priorities stated by the hon. Member for Norwich, South to deal with the barriers to people starting cycling—especially the problems of safety and danger, storage and security, and convenience and comfort.

Cycling is not and should not be a party political issue. I am delighted that the Government have endorsed the national cycling strategy—initiated by the previous Government—of doubling cycle use by 2002 and quadrupling it by 2012. However, the Library tells me that there is no specific mention of cycling in the Government's consultation on integrated transport. That is an extraordinary oversight which the Government will have to face up to.

The hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) essentially asked the Minister to get on her bike. I am worried about rumours that she never cycles. It has even been rumoured that she cannot ride a bike. If that is true and the result of some phobia, may I offer to take her out on my tandem? Perhaps I can introduce her to the joys of the open road.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Thanks to the policies of the previous Government, we now have very severe traffic congestion in many of our cities. I am fortunate in living in Cambridge, which has tried to cater for cyclists. Does the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that in many cities cycling is quite hazardous and should not be undertaken lightly or with little preparation?

Mr. Chope

I thought that the hon. Lady was going to say that cycling should not be undertaken with a Minister on the back of a tandem. She has anticipated the burden of my remarks, which will emphasise the safety problems.

The Liberal Democrats' contribution to the debate, as usual, has been long on need for more money. I take issue with the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor) in saying that the previous Government were ostrich-like, taking their head out of the sand only when approving roads schemes. I remember going to the hon. Gentleman's constituency as Minister with responsibility for roads on many occasions to open roads schemes such as improvements to the A30 for which he had campaigned, and he is campaigning for more improvements.

The right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) has been campaigning for full dualling of a trunk road in his constituency, and everyone knows that the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) was campaigning vigorously for a bypass in his constituency. Across the country, Liberal Democrats are campaigning for increased roads expenditure. They are campaigning even in the county of Dorset, for completion of the Poole bridge. They are also promoting a scheme for a new road near Wareham. The Liberal Democrats are therefore committed to increasing roads expenditure.

Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester)

Perhaps we can return to the subject of the debate, which is cycling. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the previous Government spent too much, too little or just the right amount on cycling provision?

Mr. Chope

Cycling provision is largely a responsibility for local authorities, and most cycling is done on local roads. Perhaps not the hon. Gentleman, but hon. Members who understand how responsibilities are shared out will realise that responsibility for local roads is for local authorities. It is up to them to decide on what priority they will accord to investment in cycling.

As I said, the safety issue is paramount, because it is the main barrier to participation in cycling. The fact is that cycling is now as dangerous as motor cycling. Some hon. Members talk about the perception of cycling as dangerous, but it is the reality: cycling is indeed dangerous.

The report on road accidents in Great Britain in 1995 shows that whereas in 1975 motor cycles were three times as dangerous as pedal cycles per 100 million vehicle kilometres covered, by 1995 they were about the same. In that period, the danger of riding a motor cycle had fallen to one third of what it was before. The danger of riding a pedal cycle, having dropped in 1985, increased in 1995 to a level similar to what it was in 1975. I am keen that we should increase participation in cycling, but to do so we must overcome the real dangers involved.

Mr. Mitchell

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the danger is a product of the culture of the Tory Government for 18 years? They were a captive of the road lobby and indulged in the philosophy of building more roads, causing people to buy more cars, then building more roads, again causing people to buy more cars. In that situation, cycling is bound to become more dangerous. The need is for a national policy of integrating cycling into transport so that we give it a push.

Mr. Chope

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. We must consider ordinary, everyday cycling. Why are only 1 per cent. of journeys to school made by bicycle? I can remember cycling to school down the old Bath road. The reason why it is dangerous to cycle on the roads is that the provision for cyclists is often inadequate. Increased investment is needed to deal with the problem.

In recent years, three members of the Dorset police have been seriously injured while cycling. Two suffered extensive head injuries and one was severely and permanently disabled. Horrible cycling accidents take place all too frequently. A few weeks ago, there was a serious hit-and-run accident on the Christchurch bypass in which a cyclist, Mr. House, was killed on his way to the Conservative club. Sadly, he is not the only cyclist who has been killed near my constituency. A prominent member of the New Forest cycling club was killed on the A35 while cycling up a hill near Holmsley. The accident was caused by there being no extra space on that road for cyclists. We ignore the dangers of cycling at our peril. If we cannot persuade parents that it is safe for children to cycle to school, we should not encourage them to put their children on bicyclesz and send them off to school.

I urge the Government to spend more money on basic highway maintenance. The Government have announced in this year's grant settlement that they will reduce by 0.5 per cent. the money available nationally for spending on highway maintenance. This is at a time when the use of roads is increasing dramatically and inflation is also increasing. The Government seem to regard spending by local authorities on the road network—and that includes expenditure to fill in the potholes that are a nightmare for cyclists—as less important than the previous Government did.

We need a policy of zero tolerance towards bad cycling. A few years ago, my wife was knocked to the ground by a cycle courier who was travelling at speed the wrong way down a one-way street. We need to penalise cyclists who intimidate pedestrians and force them off the pavement. In the past year, there have been four prosecutions for such cycling in Dorset and the problem is becoming more widespread. The reason is that cyclists are being forced off the roads on to the pavements.

Mr. Lock

The hon. Gentleman refers to zero tolerance. Surely it is more important that we should have zero tolerance of motorists who drive too fast and too close to cyclists, who are then forced off the road—whether well maintained or otherwise—on to the pavement. That produces the problem that the hon. Gentleman is describing.

Mr. Chope

I do not defend bad driving by car or lorry drivers which contributes to accidents. One problem cyclists face is encountering potholes. They have either to swerve out into the road or to go through the pothole risking a buckled wheel. Potholes are a real problem and I am concerned that the Minister does not understand the nitty-gritty issue of what it is like to cycle along roads with potholes. I fear that until she does we shall not get the investment in the local highway network that the country deserves. Let us remove the largest barrier to entry into cycling—the barrier caused by the danger to cyclists.

12.15 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Ms Glenda Jackson)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke) on affording the House an opportunity this morning to debate what has been an overlooked and underrated form of transport. He was courteous and generous in paying tribute not only to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), but to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) who, I am pleased to say, has joined us for this debate. I pay tribute to her sterling work on the issue of rates for Members of Parliament who are cyclists.

The hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) began by pointing out that the debate had been remarkably apolitical, but he then tried to reduce it to a mere party political rant. He also misinformed the House. Cycling is indeed part of the Government's consultation document on an integrated transport strategy—and I can cycle. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his offer of tuition but, given the lamentable lack of leadership and direction that is the hallmark of his party, I must decline his kind offer—I would think twice if he offered to lead me across a road, potholed or otherwise.

Hon. Members on both sides have expressed their concern about the decline of cycling in recent years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South pointed out, 20 years ago, 3.2 per cent. of all journeys on the roads were undertaken by bicycle. Regrettably, the figure is now 1.26 per cent. The average number of journeys made by bicycle per person per year has dropped from 30 to 17. Those are depressing statistics and they are even more depressing when compared with similar statistics for other European countries.

There are, however, more positive signs which indicate considerable potential to reverse the trend. Annual sales of new bicycles have grown to about 2 million, exceeding the number of new cars sold. It is estimated that there are now about 20 million bicycles in existence. About 99 per cent. of men, 89 per cent. of women and 90 per cent. of children can cycle.

Hon. Members on both sides raised the issue of children being taken by car to school. All hon. Members have a common interest in promoting and expanding safe routes to school. That point was made by my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock) and for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane), and by the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor). This is an issue on which the Government have been concentrating since we took office. We want to reduce the number of unnecessary car journeys on our roads, but there is also concern about the health of the nation's children. The lack of exercise by children is a cause for concern.

As I said, the Government are committed to safe routes to school, but we must examine the idea in the round. It requires close consultation not only with schools, school governors, teachers, parents and pupils, but with local authorities. Several schemes are up and running and they provide best practice. Our encouragement of the greater use of cycles is part of our integrated transport strategy. Not only on this but on all issues connected with cycling, we must work out how we can disseminate best practice.

Mr. Bob Russell

Is the Minister promising additional Government finance? Does she accept that there are schemes and examples of initiative and enthusiasm across the country, but they lack resources?

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The Liberal Democrats have spent all the money already.

Ms Jackson

As my hon. Friend points out, that miraculous 1p that the Liberal Democrats were going to use to solve all the nation's problems has been spent 12 times. I understand that the approach of some Liberal Democrat-run local authorities to the road network is benign neglect.

The extent of the traffic congestion in the capital means that cycling now offers the fastest journey time for trips in inner London. Cycling has the potential to confer a range of positive benefits. It is widely available and gives direct, door-to-door, flexible and reliable transport at any time. It offers equivalent personal freedom to that associated with the car at a fraction of the cost, and without the negative impacts of pollution, congestion and inefficiency. In addition, cycling helps to sustain fitness—that is particularly relevant for the nation's children—and mobility for people of all ages.

Last year saw the launch of the national cycling strategy—a blueprint for cycling. It was developed by a steering group comprising central Government, local authorities, the commercial sector and voluntary organisations. That spirit of partnership remains an essential prerequisite for delivering the targets set out in the strategy, which the Government are keen to support.

The objective of the strategy is to establish a culture that favours the increased use of bicycles for all age groups. We want to develop innovative policies and good practice, with a central target of doubling the amount of cycling by 2002, and doubling that again by 2012.

The aims of the strategy link in with the Government's wider objectives of air quality improvement, sustainable development, transport efficiency and personal and public health. We need to recognise the bicycle as a serious transport option for going to work, to the shops, to the bus or train station, or to school. That means focusing on infrastructure as well as attitudes.

Mr. Chope

On which of the occasions that the Minister has just described does she use her bicycle?

Ms Jackson

I regret that my ability to use my bicycle to go to the shops has been somewhat precluded. Given the pressure of work, my ability to go to the shops is almost nil.

A national cycling forum has been established. It is responsible for ensuring that national and local policy and provision deliver increases in cycling, in line with the identified NCS outputs. The forum also co-ordinates the contributions of a number of working groups. Seven such groups have been established to look at a range of subjects.

One of those groups is exploring ways to maximise the opportunities for combining cycling with public transport. That is a major issue that involves not just bicycle carriage on other vehicles, but the provision of physical facilities at stations, bus stops and major interchanges, and of information about what is available to those planning multimodal journeys.

We are looking to train and station operators to play a major role in developing a cycle-friendly railway system. That will be achieved only if operators deliver what cyclists want—facilities for cycle carriage, convenient and secure facilities at stations, and comprehensive information. The voluntary code of practice, "Providing for Cyclists", launched earlier this year, offers helpful guidance to operators. The code was developed by the cyclists public affairs group, the Cyclists Touring Club and Sustrans—to whose valuable and inspirational work my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Valerie Davey) paid tribute.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South mentioned earlier, I was invited to make the first cycle mark award earlier this year to Anglia Railways for its "Bikes on Trains" initiative, developed in partnership—again I use that word partnership—with cycle user groups, the community, local authorities and the Government. Chiltern Railways has installed secure cycle racks at its stations. Great Western Trains has increased capacity and reduced its charge for reserving cycle carriage from £3 to £1. Thames Trains is providing flexible space for carrying bicycles on its trains. Those companies have pointed the way and we expect others to follow.

Making the railways more cycle-friendly is not the responsibility of just the train and station operators. On 6 November, we issued new objectives, instructions and guidance to the franchising director, placing a new duty on him to ensure that, as far as possible, the railway provides suitable facilities for cyclists. If a franchisee plans to order new rolling stock, the franchising director is now required to discuss with the franchise operator the provision of suitable space for accommodating bicycles on the trains. The franchising director is also required to encourage operators to provide suitable facilities for cyclists at the stations that they manage.

Hon. Members on both sides have mentioned the key issue of safety. We have announced our intention to set a new road safety target for the years beyond the turn of the century. The perception that promoting more cycling and reducing road casualties are not compatible must be challenged. One of the forum's working groups aims to ensure that the national cycling strategy can work in harmony with the development of the road safety strategy. Traffic management and related highway engineering offer enormous potential to make cycling conditions safer and more attractive to use. Networks of bus and cycle lanes, advanced stop lines for cyclists at traffic signals and one-way streets with contraflow are just some examples of possible measures. My hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest highlighted the need for planning to take the needs of cyclists into account when creating new buildings and workplace environments.

Cycle security is a perennial concern for cyclists. No matter what measures are put in place to encourage people to use their bike, the chances of their doing so are diminished if they do not have a reasonable expectation of finding it, with all its pieces in working order, where they left it.

A working group has been exploring the potential for developing a graded set of security standards for locking devices and is also keeping in touch with Southampton city council's review of existing guidance on the design, manufacture, planning and siting of cycle parking equipment.

Local authorities are the primary agents for delivering physical improvements for cyclists. My Department is developing guidance to help authorities to review the cycle-friendliness of their existing networks and proposals for new road infrastructure.

The strategy invites local authorities to contribute towards its headline target by putting together their own local cycling strategies. Some authorities may find it relatively easy to achieve—or exceed—a doubling of cycle use. Others will find it more realistic to adopt a more modest target. That is why the strategy does not prescribe local targets, but encourages authorities to determine for themselves what is appropriate and achievable.

Public transport operators, bus and train station managers and employers can also be more proactive by providing secure cycle parks and shower facilities at work and by improving cycle access, as my hon. Friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) pointed out. My Department offers interest-free loans to staff to purchase bicycles. There are excellent facilities available at Eland house and Great Minster house for staff who cycle to work. We have issued a green transport guide to all Departments. All Departments work together on a green Cabinet Sub-Committee to put the environment at the heart of all our policies. Transport has a major impact on our ability to achieve our aims for a sustainable economy and an acceptable and improving environment.

Putting in place practical and physical improvements will help to provide some tangible evidence of better provision for cyclists. There is a wealth of good practice. Information on successful initiatives, new approaches and innovations needs to be spread widely. There is much value in sharing knowledge and experience. The forum's best practice group has taken on the challenge and will be looking at topics such as cycling and town centres and cycling and health. Its task is to generate and disseminate guidance covering the principles of the national cycling strategy and relevant best practice examples.

Recent experience in cycle challenge and elsewhere has demonstrated the importance of establishing strong partnerships for action. I have asked my officials to analyse the outcomes of cycle challenge and ensure that the results are disseminated widely. Public transport operators were involved in a number of cycle challenge schemes. They include Greater Manchester passenger transport executive's drive to improve cycle parking at Metrolink stations and an initiative by Transport Management Services in conjunction with Stagecoach Cumberland to enable buses to carry bicycles on rural routes.

Examples from the health sector include a partnership between Southampton city council and Southampton University Hospital NHS trust to improve cycle parking on the hospital site and to reduce the number of cars coming on site. Stockport health authority received cycle challenge funds to operate a cycle leasing scheme to staff willing to give up their cars.

Employers, too, took part in cycle challenge. Dover council worked with Pfizer UK to improve cycle facilities for staff on the site, to fund cycle facilities in the town of Sandwich, and to improve access and local routes for cyclists. BNR Europe established cycle facilities and improved access to its site at Harlow in Essex.

Many voluntary groups either received cycle challenge funds or—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. We must move on.